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Sharks at Flames Preview: Hopeful for a hard-fought win

The last two losses came in winnable games. Can the Sharks lock down their defensive play against the Calgary Flames?

Dylan Gambrell #7 of the San Jose Sharks skates against the Calgary Flames during the second period of an NHL hockey game at SAP Center on February 10, 2020 in San Jose, California. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks are facing off against their division-mates, the Calgary Flames, for the first time this season. The Sharks’ roster is still decimated by COVID, but they’ve put together a remarkable showing despite their losses. They’ll have to bring their A-game against the Flames, who are currently second in the Pacific Division.

Calgary is just as rested as the Sharks (both teams played their last game on Nov. 6), with the benefit of the home arena and a 6-0 win over the New York Rangers to buoy them against the Sharks. The battle of Alberta is raging in the Pacific, with the Flames just one point below the division leaders, the Edmonton Oilers, at 17 points and a 7-1-3 record. The Sharks sit at fourth, with 13 points and a 6-4-1 record.

Elias Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau are on fire, tied as their team’s point leaders with 14 points in 11 games, and Matthew Tkachuk has been driving offense for the team, potentially fueled by his younger brother, Brady Tkachuk, making captain before him. The Flames have been an exciting team to watch, and despite two overtime losses earlier in the week to first the Nashville Predators and then the Dallas Stars, they’ve played well.

Will the Sharks’ defense shut it down in their own zone?

It’s hard to critique the Sharks defense given that all but two of them are staples for the San Jose Barracuda. The call-ups are giving it their best effort, but small defensive miscues and miscommunication have undone games’ worth of hard work in just a few moments. Last game, Ryan Merkley fumbled a puck in front of the Sharks net on a misstep which led, eventually, to a loss in shootout to the New Jersey Devils, and prior to that, a multitude of turnovers to the St. Louis Blues led to a loss.

The good news is that the Sharks are quick to learn from their mistakes. Against the Blues, the Sharks had 12 giveaways in just the first two periods. Against New Jersey, they had just 3 in that same amount of time. Given the emotions after the game (Jonathan Dahlen said he was pissed about the loss, despite their efforts), I can imagine that the Sharks will have more consistent defensive coverage in their own zone, especially in front of the net. Plus Adin Hill will be in net against the Flames, so the Sharks won’t have the veteran presence of James Reimer to lean on.

Will head coach Bob Boughner or the players join the road trip?

Due to travel restrictions regarding COVID via the Canadian Government, anyone who has tested positive for COVID in the past 14 days is unable to enter the country. I know it feels like it’s been forever since the first of the players and staff were added to the list, but for the first wave who were added on Oct. 30 (Boughner, Erik Karlsson, Jake Middleton, Matt Nieto, Radim Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic), it’s been 10 days. For Kevin Labanc (Nov. 1) and Timo Meier (Nov. 2), it’s a longer wait.

The good news is that Boughner and some of the players should be game-ready and off the protocol by the Sharks’ Nov. 13 game against the Colorado Avalanche, in Denver. After the regularly-scheduled team practice, Boughner and Nieto, Simek, Vlasic, Labanc and Meier hit the ice for a brief (and safe) practice.

To account for the COVID absences, the Sharks have recalled defender Artemi Kniazev, who debuted for the Sharks on Nov. 4, as well as forwards Joel Kellman and Sasha Chmelevski. Chmelevski and Kellman were extras in practice, so they may or may not be healthy scratches, but they’re good options to have. Both played a few games for the Sharks last season, but have yet to hit the ice for them this year.

Sasha Chmelevski has 3 points in seven games for the San Jose Barracuda this season, and Kellman has 2 points in six games.

Will the Sharks continue their early energy in the first period?

The Sharks consistently came out flat-footed in the first period until the COVID outbreak hit. With the desire to prove themselves and need to fill in the gaps for the guys who are out, the Sharks have shifted the narrative and come out swinging at puck drop. It’s a nice change, but it hasn’t been consistent. In every game so far of the season, the Sharks have given up quick shots on goal off of the opening faceoffs and the first five minutes of each game has been controlled by the opposing team.

Concentrating on set defensive plays off the faceoff may be their best bet considering the pattern they’ve created.

Bold Prediction: It feels bold to say the Sharks will win given their recent string of losses, but I think Jonathan Dahlen and Jasper Weatherby will drag the Sharks to a hard-fought win by one goal.